Felix In Hollywood

A Blog for the Smart Set

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

That Gibson Girl!

Okay, Motion Picture Riddle Time:
What do Patsy Palmer, Margie Gibson, Marguerite Gibson, Helen Gibson, Ella Margaret Lewis, Ella Margaret Arce and Pat Lewis have in common?

Answer:  They're the same person.  Of course she was born Ella Margaret Gibson.  She was most commonly known though, as Margaret Gibson.  Until a little later when she was most commonly known as Patricia Palmer.  But her friends called her 'Gibby'.  While she had friends.

Now, I'm just warning you, this dame's story has more twists than a Chubby Checker record.  Let's begin, shall we:

Gibson was born in Colorado Springs in 1894 to parents who were in the show business.  Papa was a musician and Mother was a singer.  Trooping the road was all the child knew from the beginning.  Unfortunately, Papa was a rolling stone and by 1907 decided to go solo, leaving the now footlights savvy 12 year old as her mother's sole means of support.  It's a little fuzzy as to why mama is no longer capable of supporting herself but, hey, things happen, don't they.  Anyhooo, by 1912 they had trooped their way to Los Angeles and 17 year old Gibson had trooped her way through the front door of the Vitagraph company in Santa Monica, where she spent the next few years, becoming the youngest leading lady on the lot.  During her tenure she appeared opposite William Desmond Taylor (future Paramount Director and murder scandal topic) in 4 pictures.

Margaret Gibson and William Desmond Taylor in "The Kiss" 1914

There were quite a few publicity stories done on her during this time:  She's a fresh and humble beauty!;  She dances the tango!;  She wins a bathing suit competition!, and the like.  One such article mentions celebrating her 19th birthday (which actually would be her 20th) by holding an old fashioned housewarming party in her new home "built on a cliff overlooking the ocean".  In 1915 she appeared in "The Coward" at the prestigious Thomas Ince studios (this was on TCM last night and that's what launched me on this Gibson jag).

Then her career started going south (metaphorically) and east (geographically) to Hollywood and the poverty row studios.  The publicity puff pieces stop, no more about her lovely ocean-view home or her shiny black horse or her shiny green roadster.

The next mention that she received in the papers wasn't until 1917 and it wasn't on the society page.  It seems she had been arrested during the police raid of a downtown LA 'sportin' house' and charged as being a young woman employed in said house!  Preposterous! Nonsense!, our girl replied, she had merely visited this place to absorb local color for a film role.   Now this was good and quick thinking on Gibby's part since "Local Color" was the title of a picture she had made the year before.  There were also inferences of Opium dealing involved in the raid (just sayin').

In spite of the fact that there was sworn testimony from one of the other 'workers' that Gibby had in fact been seen at the house on many, many days, clad in nothing but a kimono, seated in the same hallway where the rest of the girls were, being tapped on the shoulder by one of the gentlemen who patronized the establishment, and disappearing into one of the rooms for 5-15 minute intervals with same gentlemen, she was acquitted!!!

The only thing that I can figure, is that there was a female D.A. (astounding considering the year) that was a regular Tasmanian Devil in her cross examinations of the defendant, and there's nothing like an imposing, forceful older woman accusing a young, fresh-faced girl of being low-down, dirty trash to make a jury feel like the girl is the underdog and the one to root for.

So with her record, if not necessarily her reputation, clean, she found her way back to Hollywood with her head somewhere between held high and hung low.  Of course the story had received sufficient coverage that she couldn't very well put the name Margaret Gibson on the credit roll any longer, and that's when she started using the name Patricia Palmer.  Among others.

We'll pick up her story in our next installment of, "That Gibson Girl!"


normadesmond said...

did robert osborne get moist when
he mentioned she was a whore?

designing wally said...

Some girls get to go out dancing; Other girls, they gotta work.